Don Freeman’s classic children’s story, “Corduroy” tells the tale of a stuffed bear who travels through a giant mall on the lookout for the button that has gone missing from his green overalls. On his search, he discovers all of the cool things that department stores have to offer, from escalators to big comfy beds.
The reason that Corduroy goes off looking for his button is because the mother of a child who notices him in the store won’t allow her daughter Lisa to buy the bear. “I’ve spent too much already,” the mother says, and continues, “Besides, he doesn’t look new. He’s lost the button to one of his shoulder straps.”
Now initially, we’re thinking that the mother is being a little bit cruel. But we don’t really know the background story here, and how many times have we heard kids tell their mothers that they have been waiting forever for some specific toy?
And how do we know that all that other money spent earlier that day wasn’t also spent on the daughter? Corduroy could just be one more thing that Lisa is requesting in a long line of new toys.
I mean, let’s be real, as parents we are onto this story, and it doesn’t seem genuine. Even further, we don’t know that this Corduroy bear isn’t being sold at way too high a price. Maybe we just can’t afford this bear, ok? Get off our case!
So, though this mother is coming off as sort of the enemy here, we all know she doesn’t deserve it at all. We get her.
Then we think about this whole button issue for a second. I mean, even if I had gone to the store for the specific purpose of buying my kid a new bear, and this Corduroy bear was really exactly what my kid wanted, I know I would second-guess myself for at least a minute about spending my hard-earned money on a bear that appears to be used versus buying a new one.
So while we would be quick to think of this mother as the penny-pinching, button-shaming nemesis, maybe we can all just take a second and see a little of her in ourselves. Because, while we’d like to be on the child’s side in most of these stories, we know that we are all a lot like the mother here.
And, as it turns out, that isn’t all bad. Because at the end of the story, while it’s often skimmed over in our readings, we notice that the reason Lisa gets to go to the store and buy Corduroy after all is because her awesome and practical mother said she could if, and only if, she used her own money from her piggy bank. So Lisa had to pay for the bear herself to purchase it. Which teaches her to value the bear more because she had to use her earnings to buy him. Ahem, massive character lesson? Check.
Of course, we parents get the short end of the stick again here because the mother doesn’t even show up in that last scene to accept her medal as best parent around and firmly reform our image of her. So it’s easy for us to forget that she ended up being everything we’d hope we are after all.
Man, parenting is so unfair sometimes.